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The Sandbox: “Braid” Forges a Path for Indie Gaming

The Sandbox: “Braid” Forges a Path for Indie Gaming (photo)

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Two columns back, I capped off a discussion about the video game industry’s worsening case of blockbusteritis with a plea for a viable indie gaming model like that of the movies. There is an independent gaming community out there, one that’s historically existed mostly on the PC, and continues to thrive thanks to sites like Indie Games and TIGSource. What’s needed is a more accessible platform, if indie games ever hope to make waves with console owners. And it seems to me that that platform exists today in Microsoft’s Xbox Live and Sony’s PlayStation Network, two sturdily designed online venues through which people can play multiplayer games with others, rent TV shows and movies, chat with friends and purchase both expansion packs for over-the-counter titles and original games produced exclusively for the service.

It’s this last feature that holds the most promise, since the enormous roster of current downloadable games on Xbox Live (over 200 to date) are more often than not the work of independent designers and generally cost no more than ten bucks. Resourceful, talented gamemakers can, in theory, use Xbox Live to bypass the typical retail model and the need to produce something with enough mass appeal to offset high production costs. It allows them to directly pitch their comparatively cheaply produced, idiosyncratic works to a market of more than 17 million subscribers.

Of course, in light of mainstream gamers’ infatuation with animesque RPGs and intergalactic FPSs, forming a legitimate indie gaming community can seem like wishful thinking. But there’s hope: Xbox Live has already given the gaming world its equivalent to “Pulp Fiction” in the guise of “Braid.” Bear with me here — like Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film, Jonathan Blow’s rightly acclaimed title (released last August) uses a familiar genre template (a 2-D side-scrolling “Mario”-esque platformer) that it invigorates with time-warping devices, a dose of deconstructive self-consciousness and a dedication to bold rule-breaking that separates it from its more traditional brethren. And just as Tarantino’s postmodern classic once and for all brought indie film to the forefront of cinema as a whole, so too does “Braid” feel like the first real opportunity for indie gaming to stake its claim as a much-needed alternative to the AAA franchises that dominate the weekly sales charts.

05012009_braid2.jpgSelf-produced for $200,000 over three years by Blow (a former videogame industry consultant), “Braid” is a game that’s at once user-friendly and surprisingly profound, one of the truest marriages of form and content I’ve ever experienced with the medium. You play as Tim, a nattily dressed man in search of a princess kidnapped by a monster. Starting off on the darkened streets of an unidentified city, Tim travels to a house whose doors lead to different worlds, which he enters after first reading books that give an oblique (and, admittedly, rather pretentiously penned) background on his relationship with the princess, as well as suggest his regret over an unidentified past mistake that caused him to lose her. Each level finds Tim running and jumping to avoid or eliminate “Super Mario”-ish enemies, while deciphering puzzles to obtain jigsaw pieces of paintings that must be completed in order to advance to the next stage.

Fundamental to “Braid”‘s gameplay is a time-shifting conceit worked into each of its six worlds. Rewinding time is mandatory, though this mechanic takes different forms, from the straightforward doubling-back tricks of the “Time and Forgiveness” opening level, to the “shadow” self (a mirror image of your past actions) that must be manipulated in the “Time and Decision” fourth section, to the slow-motion effects (produced by a mystical ring) of the “Hesitance” fifth board. Because one can always reverse prior actions, Tim can never die. The result of this time-maneuvering structure is a demanding experience, one that rewards patience and experimentation as well as nimble hand-eye reflexes. And its difficulty is a rebuke to mainstream games whose obstacles are feeble and, consequently, whose rewards are paltry. Blow has gone on record arguing against the use of online walkthroughs (i.e. point-by-point strategy guides) because he feels the entire point of the game’s toughness is to allow for a sense of real accomplishment when its problems are solved.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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